Sunday, June 2, 2013

Grant's affinity for Sheridan -- Meade's stiffness

On pages 142-3 of The Last Citadel, Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865, Noah Andre Trudeau writes, "Ulysses S. Grant and Philip H. Sheridan were of a kind: both viewed the making of war with the same hard eyes. When Grant came east in March 1864 to command all the Union armies, he placed only two of his Western protégés in top positions with the Army of the Potomac. James H. Wilson was given a cavalry division while 'Little Phil' Sheridan got the whole cavalry corps. Sheridan's unconventional views about the proper use of the mounted arm put him on a collision course with George Meade, and the two scrapped constantly during the Overland campaign, with Grant invariably siding with his cavalry chief. Meade endured this embarrassing situation through the bloody forty days and the frustrating fumbles before Petersburg in June and July. He longed for an honorable release from his responsibilities, and suddenly one was dangled before him.

"Jubal Early's raid through the Shenandoah Valley to the very gates of Washington made it imperative that the scattered Union forces opposing him be joined in a single command not subject to War Department meddling. Meade wanted that assignment, and Grant as much as said that it was his for the asking, but the proud Pennsylvanian could not stoop to request it. In response to Grant's casual offer, Meade replied stiffly that he was 'ready to obey any order that might be given' to him. Privately, in a letter to his wife, he confided that 'so far as having an independent command, which the Army of the Potomac is not, I would like this change very well.' On August 1, Grant told Meade that he was going to send Phil Sheridan north.
"Grant made the appointment despite stiff opposition from War Department officials, who felt that Sheridan was too inexperienced for the task. Lincoln himself, however, backed Grant, and Grant backed Sheridan. When Meade cornered him on his turnaround, Grant said that Lincoln had not wanted the Pennsylvanian to be separated from the Army of the Potomac, since such an action might be viewed as expressing disapproval of his leadership. Meade swallowed his disappointment."

COMMENT: I was surprised to read that Grant considered Meade for this job. Meade was older (49) and didn't seem (at least to me) to have the stamina that Sheridan (at age 33) did. Also, Meade was extremely near-sighted. Wouldn't that have conflicted with his ability to lead a mobile fighting force? Another factor is that Meade died at age 56; so did he still have a campaign like this in him?

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